October 21, 2014
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Whitehouse sees potential of 3D sonar creating jobs, helping RI fishery

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse wore an incredulous look.

He’s a sailor. He knows that a depth sounder lets you know how deep the water is and he knows how useless that information can be once you’ve hit a rock.

But last Wednesday, he was being shown a device that not only informs mariners what’s ahead under water, but what it might be.

Whitehouse was intrigued.

The senator’s visit to Far Sounder on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick was designed to showcase his initiatives to create jobs and address a key issue of his campaign, not to mention that of the president, which is the economy.

Indeed, if the military and the private sector picked up on what Far Sounder has produced, the company would grow and there would be more than the 12 jobs it now has.

But, as the company’s vice president of engineering, Matthew Zimmerman, explained, the 3D sonar system, what Whitehouse saw, has even wider implications. Zimmerman said the sonar works in four dimensions, rather than one or two as with conventional sonar. He said the first is spatial. He went on to list temporal [how an object or mass changes with time], geometrical [it’s shape] and finally its “spatial domain,” or where it is in relation to other objects. The sonar analyzes waves that are sent and returned to transducers and, through algorithms, produces an image on a screen.

When Zimmerman said the device could reduce bycatch by helping fishermen identify different types of fish, he understood the immediate benefit to the state’s fisheries industry.

By properly identifying fish, Zimmerman pointed out, fishermen would be able to catch sooner and deliver quicker, thereby reducing costs and enhancing the value of the fish when delivered to market.

Equally exciting is the reduction in bycatch. Bycatch are fish that may be restricted, or simply ones not being targeted. For example, boats may be catching river herring, whose numbers are dwindling, when the desired fish are mackerel. Bycatch are, by law, returned to the sea, but by then most of the fish are dead.

Zimmerman said what he found at Far Sounder fit into his plan to help small businesses.

“There are a lot of good elements,” he said at the conclusion of his tour, “of existing and new technologies that can be applied to the private and defense sectors.”

He went on to applaud Far Sounder’s collaboration with the University of Rhode Island and how many of its engineers completed internships with the company and returned to jobs after graduating from URI. Young people are finding jobs in Rhode Island instead of having to leave the state.

Whitehouse’s plan calls for the creation of jobs at home with the introduction of the Offshoring Prevention Act, to end a policy allowing manufacturers who send jobs overseas to delay payment on federal income taxes on foreign income. He supports legislation giving tax breaks to small businesses that create jobs and he works to keep tax rates low for small businesses and their workers.

Other aspects of the plan, he said in a release, is about $500 million in federal funding for transportation projects and passage of a bipartisan bill that gives the government ways to combat currency manipulation by foreign countries.

As for how he might specifically help Far Sounder, Whitehouse told the company’s CEO, Cheryl Zimmerman, that he would be talking with representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Also, he advised her to have their staff contact the Commercial Fishery Research Foundation, a non-profit organization, to advise them of what Far Sounder has developed.


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